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Saturday, March 31, 2007

 

Don't Cry Daddy

A good friend of mine took a Digital Filmmaking class a few years ago and just recently posted his final project to YouTube.

Take a look and let Rajiv know what you think. Either here or over on his YouTube page. His son stars in the video.



Thursday, March 29, 2007

 

Singin' In The Bathtub

We had a bad night last night. My daughter is still suffering from that annoying nighttime cough that wakes the whole house (well, mainly me). I was able to give her some relief by propping her up to a sitting position with a pile of pillows. She'd fall back asleep, but after awhile she'd slip to one side until she was laying flat, and the coughing would begin again.

I think I fell asleep solidly around 5am, only to be awakened again at 7:30 by a completely different sound. In my morning stupor, the roaring sound scared me. I thought our furnace was exploding, or maybe someone had driven their minivan into our living room (remember, I was half asleep).

I made my way down the hall toward the kids' bathroom and it dawned on me that someone was taking a bath in there. But who would do such a thing? My son takes showers at night, and my daughter hates baths.

That's when I heard the pitiful crying. Someone was in agony, maybe even being tortured. I found the bathroom door locked, but opened it quickly with the little lock picking tool that came with the knob. Hands shaking, I unlocked the second, inner door that leads to the bath and toilet.

The mournful crying turned into a wail of pain and suffering. Oh no! What terrible scene would I discover in that bathroom?

Indeed, it was a horrible sight:



For some unfathomable reason, my daughter had decided to give the cat a bath at that early hour. She told me "his paws looked dirty, so I'm helping him get clean." He received a good scrubbing with L'Oreal Strawberry Smoothie shampoo and was in the middle of his rinse when I came to his rescue. Or so he thought.

That look on his face in the picture? He's thinking, "Dude, I can't believe you went to get the camera. You are so not getting any leg rubbing from me today!"

I'm still trying to figure out how my daughter can have such a restless night, with maybe 4 or 5 hours of good sleep, then wake up refreshed and full of enough energy to bathe the family pet!


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

 

Goodnight Disneyland



One last post about our Disneyland trip. I wanted to make some recommendations to anyone planning to take their kids to the Magic Kingdom. Plus, I have a bunch more photos to post!

FOOD

Our first night at Disneyland, we stumbled into one of the most expensive restaurants I've ever eaten at -- Storyteller's Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel. The prime rib was awesome, and the cheesecake was excellent, but the prices were astronomical! My eyes popped out like Roger Rabbit when the waiter brought the check.

Silly me, I soon learned that the prices there were right in line with every other eatery in and around Disneyland. In other words, take a deep breath and just eat. You can't worry about how much the food costs, unless you plan to starve your family for the week.


Kids PB&J Palette at the Carnation Cafe

The best meal we had was at Yamabuki, the Japanese restaurant in the Paradise Pier Hotel. The worst was at Redd Rocket's Pizza Port inside the park. In fact, that pizza was the only bad meal we can remember. The whole week we were constantly surprised at how good the food was everywhere we went. Other awesome meals are to be had at: Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen, LaBrea Bakery, Carnation Cafe, and Cafe Orleans. I highly recommend the Monte Cristo sandwich at the Cafe Orleans.


Singing pirates!

RIDES

All the rides are great, but none reach the perfection of Pirates of the Caribbean. I've been on this ride well over a hundred times in my life and I never tire of it. Disney added a few movie tie-ins, like an audio-animatronic Captain Jack Sparrow, but it's tastefully done and takes nothing away from the classic feel of the ride. The same can't be said of Space Mountain, which was recently transformed into Rockin' Mountain. Gone is the sensation that you are rocketing through outer space. Now it feels like you're down at the local planetarium watching a laser light show. Ugh. I hope it's a temporary change.

Tomorrowland needs to be completely overhauled. AstroBlasters was fun, and Star Tours is turning into an old friend, but the rest of the place is sorely lacking. It was my favorite area of Disneyland when I was a kid. But now, it was where we spent the least time.

Oh. Wait. I forgot about ASIMO. I take it all back about Tomorrowland, because it was my son's ultimate thrill to see ASIMO, the state-of-the-art robot made by Honda, live and in person at the Innoventions exhibit. I haven't been inside that rotating building since a family friend was killed there, but I made an exception for ASIMO.


ASIMO the robot waves to the crowd

BATHROOMS

Do yourself, and your kids, a big favor. Study the park map and memorize the locations of every single bathroom. At home, my daughter can hold her pee for hours and hours. At Disneyland she was good for about fifteen minutes. Hey, to all those people behind us in line at the Storybook Land Boats, sorry about the puddle. Goofy distracted her.


"Hey Pluto, did you make that puddle over there?"

SHOPPING

Don't worry too much about shopping for souvenirs and gifts. You will have an opportunity to give Disney more money at EVERY TURN. There are literally gift shops within gift shops. Half the rides seem to exit into gift shops. All of Main Street seems to be one long gift shop. And if you miss anything inside the park, just outside the gates in Downtown Disney is the massive World Of Disney store, which has everything you can imagine. Except Donald Duck shirts. Donald is apparently persona non grata in the Disney merchandising department. I think it has something to do with his refusal to wear pants.



CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE

The new park across from Disneyland is an afterthought to most folks. It was for us ... we spent just one of our five days there. But I was pleasantly surprised by the place. It might have been the fact that everything was new to me. A few of the rides were spectacular, including Soarin' Over California, Tower of Terror, and Screamin' California. The kids loved the Monsters Inc. ride, the Mulholland Madness coaster, and the child-friendly Bugs Land area. We could've used another day to explore California Adventure a bit more.



PARADE

Definitely find time for the Parade of Dreams that runs through Disneyland each night (and during the day on weekends). It was a dazzler for the kids. I've never seen their eyes open so wide. Hand it to Disney, they know how to put on a good show. We staked out a curbside seat on Main Street about 45 minutes before the parade started and dug into some snacks while we waited.

Goodnight, Disneyland. Thanks for the unforgettable family vacation. And the credit card bills... did I really tip that much?!

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Monday, March 26, 2007

 

Fire In The Sky



"Daddy, come quick! The sky's on fire."

My daughter called us to the back porch to see the beautiful sunset last night.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

 

Waiting For The Princess



Yes, we waited over two hours to get pictures of my daughter with the princesses.

Disneyland has this cool (or so we thought) service called PhotoPass where photographers are stationed at various areas of the park and will take a picture of you with their expensive Nikon cameras. You carry a little card, which is scanned by each photographer, and all of your photos go into an account which you can check in the park or later at home via the Internet.

Or you can get some good pictures of your family by simply handing the photographer your little Canon point-and-shoot and asking them to use that instead. Not only is it free, but the quality is better.

There's really nothing you can do about the photographer's lack of actual photography experience. Out of nearly 40 pictures we had taken with their cameras, only two seemed to be properly framed. How hard is it to not cut off my head? But I also had them take pictures with my camera, and the difference was remarkable. Which only leads me to believe that these Disneyland employees need more training with their digital SLRs.

So if you wait two hours for the princesses (and you will), remember to take your own pictures. Your daughter will cherish the images forever. Leave it to PhotoPass and the only thing she might remember is the long wait.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

 

Weekend Whatnot

A reporter from Newsweek Magazine interviewed me last week about Legos. She asked me how I played with Legos way back when versus how my kids play with them now. We'll see if my hamster story makes it into print.

Amazon has launched an interesting new site called Askville. The premise is simple. Just ask a question, any question, and see if someone out there has an answer for you.

BookMooch is another great website that I've used a lot lately. Launched last summer, it's basically a book-trading site. I've had great luck getting the books I want. And it's much easier than pawing through shelves of paperbacks down at the thrift store.

My son's first year of homeschooling is winding down with less than two months to go. He'll actually be done with spelling and history next week since he cruised through his two favorite subjects. I need to come up with some of my own lessons for those subjects to round out the days before summer vacation.

Old toys never die, they just become computerized. Here's the classic Lite-Brite.

Some toys, however, simply should not exist at all.

Kid Pan Alley founder Paul Reisler will be interviewed on Morning Edition this Monday, March 26. Reisler will discuss his work with Kid Pan Alley, a national children's songwriting project that he developed in order to inspire children to create music. I reviewed their latest CD here.

Both of my kids have sinus drainage down the back of their throat. Which means all-night coughing, no sleep for anyone, and a Weekend of the Living Dead to look forward to.


Friday, March 23, 2007

 

"The Horror! The Horror!"



"The tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky--seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness."

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was on my mind as we made our way from one attraction to another at Disneyland. Your first assumption is that the Magic Kingdom is all sweetness and light, but it is decidedly not. And that realization really hit me for the first time on our most recent visit.

I've been to Disneyland dozens of times as a visitor, but for some reason I never noticed all the death and darkness around. The first thing that clued me in were the skulls. They're everywhere! Snow White's Scary Adventures, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones Adventure, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Peter Pan's Flight... There's even a giant skull rock at the Disneyland Hotel's Neverland pool.

If it's not skulls, it's scares. The Matterhorn features two appearances by a ferocious demon-eyed Abominable Snowman. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride actually concludes by sending you to hell, complete with blasts of hot air and a meeting with Satan himself. Alice in Wonderland is like some sort of freaky LSD trip.

There's only one truly innocent ride in Disneyland -- It's A Small World. But the case could be made that cruising through room after room of singing dolls is actually kind of creepy.

Don't get me wrong. I love every ride at Disneyland, and so do my kids. We went on every one of them last week. Some of them more than once. Haunted Mansion, three times... Big Thunder, four times... Pirates of the Caribbean, six times. We all had a blast being scared and bedazzled by the sights and sounds.

Of course, as you get older you start to think that the best ride is in the little circle at the end of Main Street, next to the statue of Walt and Mickey. There you can find a lovely green bench, from which you can comfortably sit and watch the crowds go by. The way tourists dress and act can be scarier than anything else you see in the park.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

 

A Spot For Thot



A good rule of thumb on photography -- For every 100 pictures you take, you get about 10 good ones. I took 700 at Disneyland and, sure enough, I ended up with about 70 that turned out really well. This one is from Critter Country, near the new Winnie the Pooh ride.

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The Hygiene Thing

This can be filed under Conversations I Don't Want To Have Anymore ...

Me, to daughter: "Did you just go poop?"
Daughter: "Uh-huh."
Me: "Did you wipe really good?"
Daughter: "Uh-huh."
Me: "Then why do you smell like poop?"
Daughter: "I don't know."

Ugh... She's almost six. Time for her to master the hygiene thing. Please! I've never used so much bleach and Febreze in my life.


Monday, March 19, 2007

 

Disney Magic



There's something magical that happens to kids while they're at Disneyland. Suddenly they stop bickering, they become the best of friends, and they walk hand in hand with mouths agape at the visual thrills around every corner of the Magic Kingdom.

They also start minding their parents, like little Stepford Kids... "Yes, Daddy, I will do what you say, just let me ride Big Thunder Mountain one more time." For five whole days I had these two bright and eager children who never complained or whined or said a cross word to anyone.

I wondered if Disney put something in the water.

But wait, there are exceptions. Many of them. And thank God my kids were not one of them. See the photo above? Look past my two temporarily sweet children at the little family in the background.

You see the mother beating her kid? We saw a lot of that. Huge meltdowns, on the part of both kids and parents. My kids couldn't understand why anyone would come to Disneyland to scream and cry. It's supposed to be the Happiest Place On Earth, don't they know?!

There's something about Disneyland that can bring out either your best or your worst. I guess some people just can't handle spending a day in a fantasy world. Or maybe they're stressed out because they've mortgaged their house to pay for the park food. And to some kids I suppose pirates and ghosts and a gigantic talking mouse can be the stuff of nightmares.

Speaking of nightmares, it almost seems like the best rides at Disneyland are based on the most horrible things. I'll write about that tomorrow.

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The Ultimate Family Vacation

I wanted to take my family on the ultimate family vacation. Plus, my son has done so well with his first year of homeschooling that I felt a reward of sorts was appropriate. I don't know about you, but in our house the words "ultimate family vacation" can only mean one thing: Disneyland.



So off we jetted to Southern California, where the temperature was 97 degrees when we landed. I told my wife, "Aren't you glad I made you bring your shorts?" Luckily it didn't stay that hot, dropping down to the high 80's the next day and the rest of the week. It was nice to be in shorts and sandals the whole time, especially after the long winter.

When I started planning this trip, I knew there was only one place to stay ... the overly-expensive Disneyland Hotel. Why? Because it was on my List Of Things To Do In My Life. Ever since I was a little kid I had wanted to stay at the Disneyland Hotel. So that was my logic in booking a room there. And it turned out to be quite nice. Here's the view from our balcony...



The Disneyland Hotel is old, and showing its age in places, but it's fun and comfortable, and has a very cool pool (complete with pirate ship, mermaids, and skull rock). We stayed in the Marina Tower and all we had to do to get into Disneyland was walk out the lobby, turn left, and walk about 100 yards to the monorail station (I have a whole other post to write about the monorail). Or we could make the 15-minute stroll through Downtown Disney, a jumble of trendy shops and restaurants, to the main gate.

It was like being on a cruise. We never left the confines of the hotel or the parks, only dealing with the outside world driving to and from the airport. For five days we were in a Disneyized fantasy world.

A couple of things about this fantasy world, though... In this world food costs three times what it does on the outside. Also, there are lines for everything. 10 minutes to get on a rollercoaster, 20 minutes to eat prime rib, 2 hours to meet fake princesses! Lastly, this world makes you buy things, like an ear-piercing Astro Blaster for your son, or a frilly pink princess dress for your daughter, that you normally would dismiss as junk. You can enter this place as an avowed non-consumer, but you will not be able to resist the siren call of the Disney marketers. Oh no, don't even try.



I'll have more to write about our Disney vacation over the next week. Plus, I took over 700 pictures... You don't think I'm going to share a few more? All in all, it was a great week. Very relaxing and full of awesome family memories. Most of all, it was nice to just get away from the laundry and the dishwasher.

Oh, and I made a new friend at Disneyland! She was very curious about how many dogs we have here in Idaho...

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

 

It's Been One Week Since You Looked At Me

Guess where we've been all week...











Sunday, March 11, 2007

 

Spring Break



This blog is on Spring Break!

Time to do nothing but play and have fun with the kids.

Which means: No reading or writing blog posts for an entire week.

Can I do it?

Luka Bloom - "First Light of Spring"


Friday, March 09, 2007

 

CD Review: Locksley

Last month I made my 5-year-old daughter a mix CD of Beatles songs that span their entire career. I quickly noticed that she kept hitting the repeat button after the early tunes, like She Loves You and A Hard Day's Night, with all their hand claps, harmonies, and jangly guitars.

So she's a little Beatlemaniac now, but it's not necessarily the band she cares about... It's the sound.

I love that early 60's, British Invasion sound too, and am always interested when a modern band tries to imitate it. Most of the time they come off sounding like just another tribute group.

That's not the case with Brooklyn-based band Locksley. Their debut CD, Don't Make Me Wait, is an irresistible blend of power pop and Mersey Beat that sounds totally fresh and exciting. This is not kids' music. It's everybody music. Joyfully uncomplicated toe-tapping tunes that are just plain fun.

My family highly recommends Locksley!

Have a listen:

Locksley - "The Past And The Present"

Or have a look:



You can buy their CD at Amazon.com!

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

 

When Dads Fall Apart

What makes a good dad go bad?

My heart sunk a little yesterday when I learned that one of my fellow Cub Scout dads had been arrested for stalking his wife, from whom he was separated.

He had been trying to talk with her about their relationship, but things went from bad to worse when he started following her around town and making threats. She called the police and he's now charged with misdemeanor stalking.

It's weird to read bad things about people you know. My kids and I were just over at his house for a Cub Scout BBQ and all seemed fine.

But, of course, there is more to the story than what you read in the newspaper...

This man's wife had left not just him, but also her three young children. He was working long hours at his job while trying to cope with the new role of single dad. If that's not a source of stress, I don't know what is. Add alcohol to this frustrating mix and you have a recipe for disaster.

Thank God he didn't do something worse that would've taken him away from his kids forever. I can only hope that he can refocus his life toward his children and do what's best for them.

They need a dad more than he needs a wife.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

 

Dinner Bell Redux

Making dinner is always a chore for me. Breakfast is easy - cereal, toast, juice, bacon. Lunch is fun, a time to be creative, even though my kids usually just want PB&J and apple slices.

But dinner, I never have any good ideas. When I do come up with something good, chances are the kids will complain about it. They'd be happy eating spaghetti every night.

What I need to do is make one truly horrible meal as a benchmark for their complaints, so they can always say, "At least it's not as bad as what Daddy made that one night!"

I thought I had already made a bad one, but now I believe I've found something even more horrible...

An all-time dinner horror classic:



What I want to know is, was there really a time when this meal was considered "inspiring"... I wonder how many marriages ended because of this recipe.

I might not even have to make this. Just showing the picture to my kids should bring a whole new appreciation from them for my cooking.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

 

Are You A Man?

If you're a stay-at-home dad, then you've seen the disapproving looks and heard the snide comments. At first it bothers you, but after awhile you realize that the animosity usually stems from either ignorance or jealousy.

And where do these looks and comments come from? Oh, just about everywhere. Family, friends, men, women, stay-at-home moms... But the worst are the golf-playing, beer-drinking, Minoxidil-rubbing, weight-pumping working dads. They have their own personal definition of what a man is supposed to be, and it sure as heck doesn't include vacuuming, changing diapers, and cooking a healthy family meal.

I bring this up because I heard from one of the Neanderthals today, in a forum devoted to news and issues concerning the town in which I live.

He responded to me with this:

Try to be a man (really). Get a job and go to work.

Eight years ago, this comment would've made me flustered, because I was still figuring out my role as a stay-at-home dad. But now? Well, I just have a giggle over guys like this. If he really is so clueless to think that a dad who stays at home AND homeschools his son is something less than a man, then that's his problem. I won't even go into the "go to work" comment. Some days I wish I had an outside job to run to so I could take a break from the incredible amount of work involved in running a household and teaching my son.

So, what is a man? Outside of the obvious anatomical explanations, I have no idea. He is who he is. And he does his best with what he has.

In the immortal words of Sean Altman:

I'm a man -- I got my problems.
I got my puzzles -- I try to solve 'em
Ah, but I'm doing the best that I can
'Cause I'm not super... I'm just a man


Listen: Sean Altman - "Are You A Man?"



Saturday, March 03, 2007

 

My Art Belongs To Daddy



A few weeks ago we took the kids to a childrens art festival, where they tried their hand at pottery, cartooning, mosaics, fused glass, and several other crafts. My son enjoyed using the potter's wheel (above) so much that we'll probably sign him up for a class.

My kids have always loved making art. Right now they're both obsessed with drawing cartoons, especially robots and cats battling each other (the cats always win). I get little gifts of art from them daily. We're kind of drowning in paper around here, but I don't mind so much when it's a result of their creativity.

Our society doesn't place enough importance on the arts. In the public schools the priority is testing, and that's an area where creativity is not desired. When budgets are tight, or test scores are down, art classes are always the first to get axed. Our schools should not be in the business of producing little robots.

I believe art is an essential ingredient in helping a child's mind grow and mature, just as important as math, science and literature. You can pack their brains with information, but you also need to give them an outlet for using that knowledge in a creative way. The innovations and discoveries of the future depend on it.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

 

A Sense Of Self

I read something over on the CityMama blog that really made me think (I hate when that happens)... Discussing the whole idea of "hipster parents," CityMama wrote: "It's not about parents putting themselves first, it's about parents trying to retain some sense of self in order to be better parents, because in the end, it's about the children, people."

A sense of self? As in, what defines me and makes me unique? I've always felt that my purpose in life is what defined me. And that has changed through the years. Never more so than when my first child was born. When I held my son for the first time, I knew instantly what my purpose in life should be.

There was no "sense of self" to be retained, because I was starting down a new path as a father. Being a good parent has nothing to do with who you are outside of that role. It's about giving yourself over completely to the new you, the new "sense of self" that your children are looking to for guidance and inspiration.

In other words, your kids don't care if you are fashionable or snarky or nerdy. They just want you to love them. They see you as "mom" or "dad" and that's just about the only definition of yourself you'll never need.